Over the past year or so I’ve noticed that my sleep patterns had become much more erratic. Whereas I once slept soundly and peacefully from bedtime until morning, I began waking up during the night and — most disturbingly — finding myself unable to fall back asleep readily, even though I still felt physically tired and sleep-ready. At the first instant of wakefulness, my mind seemed to immediately shift into overdrive and begin churning through pending issues rather than remaining in a sleep-receptive mode.
I attributed this to age, and a heavy workload, and lots of travel that was affecting my circadian rhythms, and other extraneous factors. But then I started wondering whether there were things I was doing that might be influencing my sleep patterns, too, and whether I could in fact take steps to avoid the unsatisfying crappy sleep nights. I’d known for some time that too much coffee consumption during the day left me feeling jittery, and that the price of having a rich cup of coffee after dinner was staying up much later than normal. Extrapolating from that evidence, I decided to practice a little self-science, and experiment with my caffeine intake to see whether establishing an earlier coffee cut-off would help me to get a more restful night’s sleep.
It wasn’t easy, because I’ve long enjoyed a cup of coffee after lunch and another one around 3 p.m., to keep me sharp during the afternoon. Old habits die hard — but sometimes you’ve got to drive a stake through them, anyway. So I started to consciously stop drinking coffee at about 2 p.m., and start drinking water at that point instead. I missed the mid-afternoon steaming cup of joe, but that simple change had an immediate, positive impact on the soundness of my sleep, and particularly on my ability to fall back asleep, which was the problem that was bothering me the most. Now I’ve backed off the deadline even farther, to 1 p.m., just to be on the safe side.
I definitely like my coffee, and I can’t imagine doing without my morning intake, but if the choice is between coffee and good sleep, coffee’s going to lose 10 times out of 10.